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I Am a Caribbean Advocate, Ending Violence.
I stood amidst the large crowd, trying to decide what to do. Should I leave or should I stay? I needed to leave. Given my schedule for the next day, I couldn’t afford to be out any later. I tapped my foot impatiently. I needed to get to my car and drive home, but if I left right that moment, I’d have to walk to my car alone. If I walked to my car alone, I’d run the very real risk of being raped or assaulted. What should I do? I decided to take the plunge. I would walk to my car alone. I didn’t have much of a choice. I stepped out into the dark night with both my keys and my heart in my hands.
I stand against gender-based violence because I live in a world where, as an adult female, my independence is threatened. I live in a world where I cannot do something as simple as walk to my car without fear of sexual assault. I live in a world where I have to spend twenty minutes mulling over whether to take a five-minute journey. I live in a world where I’m made to feel as restricted as a small child, unable to come and go as I please. The recent One Billion Rising campaign reminded us that one in three women will be beaten or raped in her lifetime. I live in a world where I could be the one.
My story is typical and unremarkable. We give advice to women about how to protect themselves: do not walk anywhere alone, write down the license plate of the taxi, keep an eye on your drink. In viewing the threat of violence as normal, we stop examining the assumptions behind these messages and take it for granted that women and girls will be beaten, raped, or otherwise violated. Trying to keep women safe from inevitable assaults is pointless; what we really need to do is challenge the idea that assaults are inevitable.
It is time for a radical shift in our thinking. Instead of telling women like me not to walk to our cars alone, how about we tell the – usually male – perpetrators not to attack women who are walking to their cars alone? Instead of telling women not to wear short skirts, how about we tell our men that a short skirt is not an invitation for rape? Instead of telling women to keep an eye on our drinks, how about we teach our sons not to drug and assault women? Sexual assault is the only crime where the actions and the character of the victim are scrutinized as much, or more, as those of the perpetrator.
Violence against women and girls is distressingly widespread, but the rate of rape in the Caribbean is higher than the global average. I co-founded and manage Walking into Walls, a Facebook page to raise awareness of violence against Caribbean girls and women. Every day, we compile and share news reports from regional media and put names, faces, and stories to the 48% of adolescent girls in nine Caribbean countries who report their first sexual experience was unwanted. We call attention to the one in three women in the Caribbean who, on average, will experience domestic violence. We remind people that this should not be is business as usual, that there is nothing normal about women and girls being violated because of their gender.
I did make it to my car safely that night. It was not entirely without incident, however. As I approached my car, a man’s voice emerged from across the street. He called out to me in a lewd and suggestive tone, asking me if I wanted an escort home. I ran the last few feet to the car.